New Law to Protect Food Safety Whistleblowers
December 25, 2010. By Gordon Gibb
Washington, DC: New legislation that has just been approved by the House of Congress and is headed for President Obama's pen will provide protections for whistleblowers who uncover problems with the manufacture and production of the nation's food supply. The approved legislation, the Senate version of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act [HR 2571], will aid the whistleblower lawyer in helping to shield whistleblowers, in so doing helping to strengthen oversight of the nation's food supply.
"When workers see rats in the food, they must be able to sound the alarm," said Stephen M. Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC), based in Washington. "Employees who blow the whistle on food contamination will finally obtain protection," Kohn added.
While the NWC continues to push for a comprehensive, national policy and basket of protections for whistleblowers in all sectors of the economy, the Food Safety Whistleblower Act will arm the prospective whistleblower with a greater degree of confidence and whistleblower rights to move forward with a whistleblower claim without fear of retaliation from an employer in the food services and manufacturing industries.
Provisions in the updated Act include coverage for all employers "engaged in the manufacture, processing, packing, transportation, distribution, reception, holding or importation of food."
The Act also allows workers to have their case heard before a jury in federal court, together with provision for reinstatement, back pay and compensatory damages.
Kohn, in a statement released December 21, noted that Congress had closed a "terrible loophole in whistleblower protection laws," without referring to the specific loophole. Nonetheless, "this should serve as an example for legislative action needed to protect other workers who still fall outside the safety net, including those who work in the offshore oil oil-drilling industry," Kohn said. " We urge all Americans to sign [the NWC petition] asking Congress to pass a national whistleblower protection law."
The Whistleblower Act, as it currently exists, allows individual citizens to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the US Government if the whistle blower is witness to, made aware or comes into possession of evidence suggesting wrongdoing or fraud against the Government that sometimes can put innocent people in harm's way. If the Government decides to take up involvement in the case, the whistleblower is entitled to a portion of any monies or settlements recovered from any attempt to defraud government entities.
However, what has been spotty, according to critics, is protection for a whistleblower from reprisals from a disgruntled employer. This latest basket of whistleblower rights for food safety workers as part of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act will help to cushion any potential fallout for doing, in the end, what is right and just.
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